Mildred Loving didn't think she was a hero. She didn't even think she was a political person. But she was, and so are you -- at least you are if you think people ought to be able to love who they love regardless of race.
The aptly-named Loving, who died on Friday, was a plaintiff -- together with her late husband, Richard -- in Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court case that effectively legalized interracial marriage nationwide.
More than a dozen states still had so-called miscegenation statutes at that time, laws that prohibited mixed-race couples from marrying. Today, we see this as an obvious injustice, a racist affront to civilized society. Rightly so.
These are sentiments rooted in justice, and they are wholly justified. But Mildred Loving's reasoning was a little different, simpler, and possibly even better. She had fallen in love with someone and wanted to marry him.
"When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married," she said last year.
Mildred Loving's statement on the 40th anniversary of the case, the source of the passage I just quoted, is a must-read. I'm not kidding. I excerpt it only because I hope it inspires you to read the whole of this graceful, pithy bit of poetics.
For the crime of marrying, the Lovings were arrested and threatened with up to a year in prison -- which Virginia would only waive if the couple agreed to 25 years of exile. They refused. There is a striking juxtaposition between jail and what Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese" calls letting "the soft animal of your body/love what it loves." Is there anything more fundamental than that? And yet until this brave couple fought for it, that right wasn't secured.
This summer, I'm going to a wedding that many American states wouldn't have allowed a generation ago. Though I'm not any more, I used to be part of an interracial marriage myself.
On behalf of everyone like us -- no, scratch that, on behalf of everyone -- thank you, Mildred.